When the news hit that HUD had cut nearly $6 million in funding targeting our homeless transitional provider programs and their services, it was unexpected to those who dedicate their efforts to ending homelessness in Miami. Adding insult to injury, some in our community turned their outrage into instant blame directed toward the leadership at the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust (HT).
Let me set the record straight.
Twenty-three years ago, we came together as a community and created the Homeless Trust to meet the needs of Miami’s homeless.
As such, Miamians are fortunate to have many passionate residents and community leaders engaged in policy, dialogue, and financial support aimed at ending homelessness.
The contributing causes of homelessness are uniquely different for each person impacted. Situational, episodic and mental health factors often play an underlying role. Rare is the case when a homeless person will respond to the first invitation for housing or mental health assistance.
Chairman Ron Book has consistently advocated first for permanent housing, while realizing that transitional programs are often a critical first step in achieving this goal. It is this transitional program facing the announced cuts.
Outreach teams, the City of Miami Police, the Continuum of Care Provider networks and the leadership team of the HT collaborate daily, 24/7 to meet the unique needs of the homeless.
No group walks the daily trenches with the least, the lost and the forgotten, more than these people.
No group faces greater disappointment when distrust in the system is the main barrier in accepting assistance or when someone walks away from a treatment center or shelter, returning to life on the street.
The faces and names of the homeless are unknown to many, but not to those of this dedicated group. These resolute professionals are the first to challenge themselves to improve the delivery of their services.
I know firsthand the importance of transitional care.
After years of unsuccessful attempts to transition a family member suffering from mental illness off the streets of Los Angeles, I made a desperate effort to entice my cousin into a program that provided a bed, clean clothes and three daily meals. His sincere response was, “I have that now.”
The reality hit home. All the generosity and kindness of the L.A. community in which he lived did nothing to get him off the streets. Instead, it encouraged, supported and perpetuated his life on the streets.
I confided in Chairman Book, sharing my story of the numerous temporary successes and repeated failures to help. I conceded that perhaps I should at least be happy that he was rather well taken care of by kind and caring neighbors. Ron looked at me and said, “No, it’s not okay. It’s not good, it’s not right and it’s not acceptable.” Ron told me to try harder.
Thanks in part to Chairman Book’s tough reality check, I renewed my determination to fight the system. Today, after 40 years on the streets, my cousin has at last transitioned into housing and is receiving the care he so desperately needed.
Chairman Book told me what I needed to hear and not what I wanted to hear. This is the same relentless and unapologetic determination that he has brought to solving Miami’s homeless challenges.
The successes of our Homeless Trust programs in large part are the result of the unwavering and sometimes aggressive pursuit of perfection to stay focused on the mission to end homelessness while maintaining strict compliance to the HUD programs.
Chairman Book and Executive Director Victoria Mallette are earnestly working on an appeal of the defunding decision by HUD. They seek to understand the reason behind this decision. Rather than fault these dedicated individuals, we as a community should rally in their support as together we look to replace these lost funds and continue our recognized programs for the homeless.
Paul Imbrone is a member of the Executive Board of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust as a designee of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.